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Managing Knee Osteoarthritis With a Cane

One of the leading causes of disability and pain among older adults (65 years old and above) is osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease. It is the most common form of arthritis. There are three types: hand, hip and knee osteoarthritis.

The biomechanical marker of knee osteoarthritis is the progression in the knee adduction moment. A higher knee adduction moment has been associated with the development of chronic knee pain. The reduction of knee adduction moment has the potential to slow progression of this disease over time.

A study by Kemp et al. showed that using a cane can reduce the knee adduction moment by an average of 10%. Because the use of a cane resulted in significant decrease in the adduction moment, the Kemp study suggested that patients with knee osteoarthritis should be encouraged to consider using a cane on a regular basis.

Another study from Jones et al. showed that a cane can be used to reduce pain and improve function and many aspects of the quality of life in patients with this disease. The Jones study stressed that in the first month of cane use, the energy expenditure should be taken into consideration. The study added that by the end of the second month of use, energy expenditure should no longer be a factor as a result of cane use adaptation.


Canes are basically walking sticks. Designs differ based on the number of tips. Some have a single tip; others have quad or four tips. The tip or tips are normally made of rubber to prevent the user from slipping. Models also differ based on the materials used: traditional wooden cane and standard aluminum cane.

In using this assistive device, the height must be adjusted to fit the user. An improper length can use back, shoulder, hand and/or wrist pain. Follow these steps to get the proper device height:
-Use your most comfortable shoes.
-Let your arms hang loosely on your sides.
-Ask someone to measure the distance from your wrist to the floor. Then, adjust the device based on the measurement.

-Test the length by holding the handle. If there is a 20 to 30-degree bend of your arm, then that is the correct height.

How to use

To use this walking aid, follow these steps:

  1. There is first the question of where to hold the cane. The general rule is to hold it on the opposite side of your weakness. However, if you are instructed by your health care professional to hold it the opposite side, then follow the professional’s advice.
  2. Place all you weight on the unaffected leg.
  3. Move the cane and the weak leg a comfortable distance forward.
  4. Then step with your strong leg.
  5. Put the device firmly on the ground before taking a step. Never place the device too far ahead as it could slip under you.
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